DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
UNITED STATES ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview
2d PLATOON, COMPANY D, 3d BATTALION, 504th INFANTRY
Staff Sergeant Todd O. Brown
Sergeant Rodney P. Blount
Specialist Jason Shipp
Private First Class Brian Culpeper
Interview conducted 31 December 1989 at the Madden Dam, Panama
Interviewer: MAJ Robert K. Wright, Jr.
JOINT TASK FORCE SOUTH IN OPERATION JUST CAUSE
20 December 1989 - 12 January 1990
Oral History Interview JCIT 006
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. [This is an Operation JUST CAUSE] after-action interview report conducted at Madden Dam, 31 December , 1030 hours. Interviewing official is MAJ [Robert K.] Wright, [Jr.], the XVIII Airborne Corps Historian. Talking to members of the 3rd [Battalion] of the 504th Infantry concerning their operations in the initial phase of Operation JUST CAUSE.
First, I'd like to ask each one of you to give me your name (full name), rank, serial number, your unit, and your duty position within the unit.
SGT BLOUNT: My name is SGT Rodney Patrick Blount, ***-**-****. I'm in Delta Company [Company D], 3rd of the 504th. I currently hold a section [leader] position in the second section of AT-2 [2d Platoon; an antitank or AT element].
PFC CULPEPER: My name is PFC Brian Culpeper, ***-**-****. I'm in Delta Company, 3rd of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. I'm currently an assistant gunner.
SPC SHIPP: My name is SPC [Jason] Shipp, ***-**-****. I'm in Delta Company, 3-504th, Parachute Infantry Regiment, and currently I guess I'm an RTO [radio telephone operator].
SSG BROWN: My name is SSG Todd Owen Brown, ***-**-****. I'm in Delta Company, 3rd of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. I currently hold a section leader slot in AT-2.
MAJ WRIGHT: Okay, gentlemen. What I'm going to ask you quickly to do is describe to me when you deployed down to Panama, and what you had been doing in the couple of weeks immediately prior to the operation.
SGT BLOUNT: I'm SGT Blount. We initially deployed down for all intents and purposes of attending JOTC [Jungle Operations Training Center] here at Fort Sherman. For the first week, we attended classes and training at the jungle school, routinely running what we were told were contingency missions, I guess in preparation for the actual invasion.
PFC CULPEPER: I'm PFC Culpeper. It's like SGT Blount said. We had been doing some training, unbeknownst to us, we did not really ... we couldn't foretell this invasion happening. We were just down here going through a school, and we were aware of contingency missions around Panama. We had our own missions. They basically turned out to [be] what seemed to me, later on, as an afterthought, were rehearsals for an invasion, and I think that's probably a first in American history, the rehearsal of an invasion.
SPC SHIPP: This is SPC Shipp. Before this shit happened, when I came in we ... I jumped in with SGT Blount on the 11th [actually 10 December], Sunday, [and] went to Fort Sherman. The following days, I started training [at] JOTC [and on] contingency missions, which we didn't know much about what was going on. A couple guys, Americans, got shot up downtown. We thought we weren't going to do shit about that. I was a little pissed off. But it all made up in the end. We went in the next day and kicked some ass, pretty much. The first day was the best. We haven't seen shit much lately.
SSG BROWN: I'm SSG Brown. Like most of the other guys said, we came down here in the original intention of going through JOTC. About the first week, we did a lot of training in [the] jungle: land navigation, basic survival techniques out in the jungle. And as time went on, we were slowly briefed more and more in our contingency missions, and, as we realized, it slowly built its way up to where we finally ... we hit H-Hour and stuff, and we moved out, and we actually ... the invasion started. We moved in and it kind of all caught us by surprise. But overall I thought we were pretty much ready, because of rehearsing the stuff that we did, once it actually started.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. When you came back in to Fort Sherman from the training, what, I guess the night of the 19th or during the day of the 19th, to get ready for the real thing, how quickly did you figure out that this wasn't just playing around, that this was ... something was really going to go down?
Sergeant Brown, do you want to start?
SSG BROWN: My name's SSG Brown. It really kind of caught us all by surprise. Everybody came running in and saying 'this is it, this is it,' and we went upstairs and they told us to pack our equipment. 'This is the real thing.' And after we got all our equipment packed, they started issuing ammo out and stuff. The CO [Commanding Officer] briefed us all and told us that it was really happening, and that this would be one of the biggest invasions since World War II, and that we all need to keep our stuff together and look out for each other. And basically from there, that's when we started uploading on the trucks with our equipment, and we moved out to our objectives.
MAJ WRIGHT: What kind of trucks were they that you moved out on?
SSG BROWN: We had five tons and deuce and a halfs [5-ton and 2.5-ton cargo trucks].
MAJ WRIGHT: Belonging to JOTC?
SSG BROWN: Yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: What time, about, did you get the alert to assemble?
SSG BROWN: About ten? What, about nine o'clock? Between nine and ten o'clock, 2100, 2200, around there, after we started prepping our equipment, and they started issuing out live ammo, and they told us, this is the real thing; no more playing around.
SGT BLOUNT: The first formation was about 2230. That's when the CO came out and actually ... well, it was about 2215 [when he] came out and talked to us, told us what was going on. And around 2230 we got on the trucks, and 2300 we were en route to our initial rally point.
MAJ WRIGHT: At that point, when the CO briefed, is when you got your very specific mission. What was that mission as you guys understood it?
PFC CULPEPER: We were to secure a bridge and, with engineer attachments, construct a roadblock over this bridge and create a choke point and not let any traffic or personnel through that road.
MAJ WRIGHT: Thanks PFC Culpeper. Did you guys have a clear understanding of Rules of Engagement?
PFC CULPEPER: Yes, we did.
MULTIPLE VOICES: Yes, we did. Yes, sir. Yeah.
MAJ WRIGHT: What were the rules on H-Hour as you understood them?
SPC SHIPP: The Rules of Engagement, as I was told: if they got a weapon, they're going to die. If they got a weapon, we're not going to take the chance to lose any of our own troops.
SGT BLOUNT: This is SGT Blount. The main thing that was stressed to us, even when we first got here before we started doing contingency motions like that, the Rules of Engagement were read to us numerous times by the CO and by our platoon leader [1LT Matthew Miller]. And the main thing that was covered was to prevent loss of American lives, overall.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. So if there was risk, don't take the risk, let them go and we'll get them again another time?
SGT BLOUNT: Right. And basically all the Rules of Engagement, they stressed, if you could, you know, don't really ... if it's a life or death situation, yeah, protect yourself. But basically if it was like a situation where it warranted caution and stuff, we were told to just basically disable the guy.
SSG BROWN: And we gave warning shots before we fired, too.
SGT BLOUNT: Right.
SSG BROWN: They told us to try and at least give a warning shot.
MAJ WRIGHT: You had a Spanish speaker with you?
SGT BLOUNT: Yes, we did, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: Who was that Spanish speaker?
SSG BROWN: It was our Platoon Sergeant, SFC [Carlos] Vilorio.
MAJ WRIGHT: So there was ... you weren't involved, then, in that cross-attaching that went on at [Fort] Bragg to ensure that everybody had a Spanish speaker in the platoon before ... ?
MULTIPLE VOICES: No. No, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: You didn't need it?
SSG BROWN: My name is SSG Brown. We basically broke that down when we got here. We had enough Spanish people, Panamanian guys that are in our company, and other Spaniards; SFC Vilorio, and a few other guys. My squad leader, SSG DelaRosa, he was attached to another platoon, and he got caught by a grenade and took a lot of fragmentation. He's back in the States right now, getting taken care of.
MAJ WRIGHT: Was that that surrender incident?
SSG BROWN: It was right up here.
MAJ WRIGHT: Yeah; O.K.
SSG BROWN: It was right up here by the CP [command post] just up the road, and stuff, and the guy got out of a car and he threw a grenade. And everybody tried to get away, and it exploded.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. You moved out, you said, what, about 2330 hours in the trucks?
SSG BROWN: Everything was happening so fast, I couldn't give you the specific time, but it was around 2300 hours or so. We were moving out down the road, and basically we gained ... we got about two or three miles down the road. We encountered right by the [Panama] Canal, we encountered a P.D.F. [Panamanian Defense Force] vehicle that was playing around with us. He cut right in front of our deuce and a half and kind of tried to separate our convoy. And the "L-T" [lieutenant] made it specific to the driver, no other vehicles were to get in between our convoy. And it was kind of hairy from there up to our objective.
MAJ WRIGHT: There was no attempt, at that point, to take the P.D.F. vehicle out, though?
SSG BROWN: No, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: Because that was prior to H-Hour. Yeah.
SGT BLOUNT: That was the mission at the time.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. What was the basic load you guys were carrying? You only took, as I understand it, two .50s [M-2 .50-caliber machine guns] for the heavy weapons ... out of the heavy weapons?
SGT BLOUNT: With only 200 rounds each, sir.
PFC CULPEPER: The .50s.
SGT BLOUNT: Each .50. That's all we had was 200 rounds, each.
MAJ WRIGHT: Was that intentional or was that just you couldn't get it?
SGT BLOUNT: It was inevitable.
SSG BROWN: Basically, at first we couldn't get it, and then as time went on, more and more ammo came to us. We ended up getting a lot of AT-4s, LAWs [M-72A2 light antitank weapons], claymores [M-18A1 antipersonnel mines]. I got a few extra bandoleers of 5.56[mm] ammo for our M-16A2s. We got a lot of [M-67] frag[mentation] grenades.
MAJ WRIGHT: But that came to you after you had moved out to the position?
SSG BROWN: Well, we got most of it right there, like the frag grenades, AT-4s, LAWs, Claymores, all that was issued to us before we got on the trucks to move out. We didn't have much 5.56[mm] or much .50-cal. ammo when we moved out. We were a little nervous about that.
PFC CULPEPER: We didn't know when we'd get resupplied, either.
SPC SHIPP: I got something to say.
MAJ WRIGHT: Sure.
SPC SHIPP: This is SPC Shipp. The 19th, when we did move out that night, I don't think, for the poop that was coming down to us, that we were supposed to be ... . They [the P.D.F.] were grouping their men. We were supposed to be hit by 200 and they were going to regroup in 300 over our position; and I thought, you know, with the rounds that I have, it was pretty hairy. I was the RTO, I had to listen to that shit.
SGT BLOUNT: This is SGT Blount. After we initially set up the roadblock and the engineers went in to set the obstacle up, we moved off the bridge to where we had a .50-cal. set up. We had two hills back behind us on each side of the road covering the obstacle. After we'd set up there a while, we got some intel[ligence] down from the [radio] net that supposedly reinforcements were en route down the highway. And at the time, like Shipp just said, if the reinforcements had actually came to the roadblock and hit us, I seriously doubt we could have held them off. Because we like had only fourteen guys on the hill and with the ammo that we had, we had 200 rounds per .50-cal., plus, you know, our 5.56. Our [M]-203 [grenade launcher] gunners were toting, at the max[imum], five HE [high explosive rounds], and we had a total of I think six ...
SPC SHIPP: ... buckshot ...
SGT BLOUNT: ... buckshot rounds, which ... that's nonsense.
MAJ WRIGHT: Any smokes?
SGT BLOUNT: Yes, we had smoke grenades. We had star clusters and parachute flares.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. How many rounds [of] 5.56 per man? Was it just one bandoleer?
SGT BLOUNT: No, we had roughly ...
SPC SHIPP: ... 180 ...
SGT BLOUNT: ... we had roughly five or six full magazines per man.
MAJ WRIGHT: That's it?
SGT BLOUNT: And then I was toting a bandoleer in my ruck; SSG Brown was toting a bandoleer in his ruck.
SSG BROWN: Each man basically ... . This is SSG Brown. Each man basically had about, maybe, at max[imum] 150 rounds per man when we first initially moved out. We were pretty nervous. We were telling our guys, hey, if anything happens, you guys need to be real cautious. They were all instructed not to fire on burst at all. You are all to fire on semi[-automatic] at selected targets to conserve your ammo.
MAJ WRIGHT: Had you guys gone through marksmanship training back at Bragg with MTU-1 [Marksmanship Training Unit Number 1]?
SSG BROWN: My name is SSG Brown. Yes, we did, sir, about a month prior to coming down here.
MAJ WRIGHT: Who did that, CPT [Randy] Sobol and his crew from MTU-1, right there at Bragg? Or was it division instructors?
MULTIPLE VOICES: It was division instructors.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did that pay off, the one-shot, one-kill training?
SGT BLOUNT: We didn't do that. We just did regular CGM, the Commanding General's Marksmanship training program.
SSG BROWN: Right.
PFC CULPEPER: Basically we had our own companies going through like the KD [know distance] range, firing at pop-up targets, things of that nature. Basic marksmanship.
SGT BLOUNT: I know ... once we were down here and the incident took place down at Panama City with the two, the navy lieutenants and what not, that evening we were put on alert. And once we were put on alert, there was basically no more ... for the next two days there was no general training. We were all on alert. We had our weapons with us, we had our ammo in our ammo pouches, and we were just standing by, basically.
Tuesday the 19th, our company went out, really, all the companies went out, to a range and did ... for zeroing purposes.
MAJ WRIGHT: To rezero the weapons?
SGT BLOUNT: Right. We were given nine rounds to zero. And ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you do it? Could you do it on the nine?
SGT BLOUNT: We did it.
PFC CULPEPER: We did the best we could. We reconfirmed our zeros with our own basic load that we were carrying. We used our ammo that we were supposed to go into combat with. We used those rounds.
SGT BLOUNT: Right. The nine rounds came from those.
PFC CULPEPER: Took about 200 rounds from our basic load went out with our platoon and we zeroed with that ammo.
MAJ WRIGHT: Do you know, was that platoon leaders' decision or company commander or ... ?
SSG BROWN: That, I assume, would be the battalion commanders' decision.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. Now, you went out to block the bridge at Coco Solo?
SGT BLOUNT: Right.
MAJ WRIGHT: And you set up initially what? What did the roadblock look like, initially, until the engineers could get the permanent [one] up?
SGT BLOUNT: Two like school buses blocked both sides of the road.
PFC CULPEPER: And six rows of concertina [barbed wire].
MAJ WRIGHT: Yellow school buses?
SGT BLOUNT: Yes, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: Were they ours or Panamanian?
[MULTIPLE VOICES ARGUING]
SGT BLOUNT: They were U.S. made, U.S. Navy buses, and it had the word, what, "collegialos" on it?
MAJ WRIGHT: Yeah, O.K. That's the DoD [Department of Defense] school buses that have the markings in Spanish so that they don't get run over.
SGT BLOUNT: Right, but it did say U.S. Navy on the side.
MAJ WRIGHT: O.K. And you put out the concertina ... you strung your own concertina or the attached engineers do it?
MULTIPLE VOICES: No, sir. The supports do it. We were under the busses and stuff.
SSG BROWN: The engineers did that.
SGT BLOUNT: Originally when we got down there, I was point man and stuff, we were moving down there, and that's about when the attack on the prison hit. And when all the bulk ends and everything started going off, it kind of like snapped everybody to reality like that (snapping sound). Holy God, you know, this is out here, it's happening.
SPC SHIPP: The men on the bridge, that's what snapped me.
SSG BROWN: And the buses came. We were a little bit behind schedule. When we got down there, the buses passed us, and went down there and they blocked off the bridges and stuff. And as the buses blocked off the bridges, they started yelling back, hey, we got P.D.F. up here on the other side of the bridge. And everybody went 'Oh, God.' And they started calling for SFC Vilorio, our Spanish speaker. And he went down to the bridge. And by this time, we all got down there, and the engineers started working, and we were pulling security around the buses and stuff while the engineers were finishing up the concertina wire and stuff and putting oil drums and stuff across the road. And SFC Vilorio several times warned the vehicle to please to leave and we fired warning shots, at least, what, ten to twenty warning shots over the vehicle, telling them to leave.
SPC SHIPP: They backed up, sergeant. There was a couple vehicles. They pulled out, and then that one van stayed there. And like SGT Brown says, SFC Vilorio was trying to tell them to get out of there. He backed up and then he kept pulling forward like he wanted a standoff, who's going to shoot first pretty much. We gave them the warning shots and they were getting out of the vehicle, so we wasted them. And while that was happening, we had another vehicle up the road hauling ass with his lights, brights, turned on, coming straight for our obstacle. And one of us said, take that car out too, so we fired on that car.
PFC CULPEPER: Those guys were dead.
MAJ WRIGHT: Who fired on the car that was coming up with the lights on? The .50s or was it small arms?
SGT BLOUNT: No, no. They were still getting set up.
MAJ WRIGHT: So they weren't up, yet?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Not. This was all happening ... . They weren't even up yet. It was all small arms.
SGT BLOUNT: We had the MPs [Military Police] under the right-hand bus with their [M]-60 [7.62mm machine gun] and they started firing with the [M]-60, and we were on the left-hand bus and we basically started firing small arms, with the M16s and stuff. And I had to extended [make ready for firing] a LAW in case we needed to use it, but we didn't use the LAWs or [M]-203s. We just used small arms and stuff, and that basically defused the situation, and it kind of calmed down a little bit so we could finish the obstacle. And then we moved back to our positions with the .50-cal. and set up security.
MAJ WRIGHT: Now, in that first short fire fight, did you see them take any casualties?
SGT BLOUNT: We didn't actually ...
SSG BROWN: Well, at first, we just seen silhouettes flop, but the next morning we found out there was three in that van. That were KIA'd [killed in action].
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you see them ... or during the night, did you have night vision?
SSG BROWN: Right. We had our NODs [night observation devices, also known as NVGs (night vision goggles)].
MAJ WRIGHT: Could you see them attempting to recover anything out of the vehicles or do you think it was just you got three and anybody else that was there got away clear?
PFC CULPEPER: This is PFC Culpeper. There was street lights around and NODs are almost useless because the bright lights from the street lights ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Blank them?
PFC CULPEPER: ... will glow like that. Bright lights from the street lights render the NODs useless, so we ... . And it was bright enough to see inside the vehicles, silhouettes inside the vehicle. But we didn't see anything moving after awhile, and our LT said we're not going to go out.
MAJ WRIGHT: Consistent with that, don't take any chances?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Right.
SGT BLOUNT: Well, one thing, like whenever the car with the brights started bearing down us, he was moving out pretty fast, and we didn't know if maybe the P.D.F. that was in the van had moved back and was calling in the rigs. We could see ... the LT was with us. We could see him talking on the radio, you know, like a hand mike in his hand or something inside the van, so we assumed that he was probably calling in for some more people, some reinforcements or whatever.
So whenever the car started bearing down on us, I know as far as I was concerned, I was sitting inside the bus behind the driver's seat, firing out the driver's window. Then that car started coming down on us real fast, the main thing that went through my head was, I hope he doesn't try to ram the bus. Because like SSG Brown said, he was--himself, Shipp, and Culpeper--were down on the ground behind the tires of the bus. And if that car would have rammed the bus, they would have been a very good possibility of them getting injured from the collision of the car and the bus.
So whenever the decision was taken, you know, made to take out the car, we just ... we opened fire. He pretty much slammed on his brakes when he started receiving the rounds, and we never saw it again. But our attention was focused over to the van because the passenger door of the van opened up somewhat and we never saw a weapon point out of the van, itself. But after, you know, a few days went by and we got down there letting people through the roadblocks, we started looking at the vans and you could tell that there were rounds fired from the other side of the van towards us. So, you know, that was pretty good.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you didn't, at the time in this fire fight, you didn't see them or weren't conscious of seeing them returning fire?
SGT BLOUNT: Right.
MAJ WRIGHT: But subsequently you figured out that they really had?
SPC SHIPP: This is SPC Shipp. I was--me and my LT were up there. We were pretty much the guys in the front, the first ones on the bridge besides the engineers. And they were calling back for us because we were already supposed to be there. Because they sounded pretty scared to me, and I don't know that they were talking too much. I think that's when they were taking the fire. And they were saying 'where's our infantry, where's our infantry, where the fuck's our infantry.' And we ran up there quick. Had one guy with the [M]-60 down there, he was behind the damn tire. He wasn't really looking; I don't think he was going to pop his head out.
SGT BLOUNT: Right. He was an MP. We had a few MPs with us.
MAJ WRIGHT: Do you know where the MPs were from?
SGT BLOUNT: They were a permanent party.
MAJ WRIGHT: Permanent party from Panama?
SGT BLOUNT: Right.
MAJ WRIGHT: So they were wearing the 'banana boat' [USARSO] patch?
SGT BLOUNT: Right.
MAJ WRIGHT: Where were the engineers from, do you know?
SGT BLOUNT: They were ours, weren't they?
SSG BROWN: They were division engineers.
MAJ WRIGHT: 82d [Airborne Division] engineers?
SSG BROWN: Yes, they were I believe. I can't remember their company. I believe it's Charlie Company, 307th Engineers [Company C, 307th Engineer Battalion].
SGT BLOUNT: They did a real good job, though, getting the obstacles set up.
PFC CULPEPER: They did it real quick.
MAJ WRIGHT: What did they put up for obstacle, then?
PFC CULPEPER: Well, again, like we said, we had the two buses, six rows of concertina, and the barrels behind that.
MAJ WRIGHT: Thank you. So there was that first little fire fight. Then everything quieted down?
SPC SHIPP: Oh no. There was a lot of yelling and screaming at the van with the police or whatever you want to call them. They were trying to yell back at SFC Vilorio. [He] was trying to yell and tell them to get the hell out of here, you know, go back to their homes or whatever. And they were just ... trying to, like, start something.
SGT BLOUNT: They were pretty hard-headed.
MAJ WRIGHT: Could you pick up any of the 'magic' words in Spanish that they were yelling at you? Did you guys know any of the cuss words in Spanish?
PFC CULPEPER: Oh, I know a few, but it was pretty hard ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Could you hear them? I mean, was it basically macho-type stuff that they were trying to do?
MULTIPLE VOICES: Yes. It was.
MAJ WRIGHT: What kind of uniforms were they in? Could you see in the dark?
SGT BLOUNT: I never even noticed.
PFC CULPEPER: No, it was dark. We didn't really get close enough to ... .
MAJ WRIGHT: But you were pretty sure they were policia rather than P.D.F. line companies?
SSG BROWN: Well, the lady that, she speaks Spanish, that was behind our position ... . SFC Vilorio speaks real fluent Spanish, so they were talking to him. She said if we would have left them down here, one of us would have got shot, if we would have let them through. So they weren't our friends.
SGT BLOUNT: One thing that they did that kind of ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Well, no. What I was trying to go for in that was, you know, did these guys have any serious infantry training or were they just the thug cops?
SGT BLOUNT: They acted like they weren't really afraid of us. They were like testing our patience. They stayed with the vehicle.
SPC SHIPP: They had some [go]nads.
SGT BLOUNT: They were leaning against the vehicle, acting like they were bad. They didn't want ... and they were like showing us signs that hey, they're not leaving. They just shut their vehicle off, shut their lights off, and they just stayed back about maybe twenty or twenty-five meters away from the buses. They just sat there, and we fired several warning shots over their heads, telling them to leave. And they just stayed there, you know, they refused to leave. And then that car came up.
SSG BROWN: One thing that they did though was, that they ...
SGT BLOUNT: Once the initial warning shots were fired, they got in their van, [and] they backed off about twenty-five meters from the obstacle. Then they shut their vehicle down and about every three or four minutes, they'd flip their brights on, just long enough to, like, fuck our vision up; they'd turn their brights off, they'd turn their lights off. Then another three minutes would go by and they'd turn them back on. And this kept on and kept on, and then that's when the thing happened with the car coming down and everything, and we just weren't going to take any more chances.
MAJ WRIGHT: PFC Culpeper?
PFC CULPEPER: In answer to your question, did we think they had any serious infantry training?, I doubt they did because they were sitting in a vehicle very close, and they knew we had a .50, I mean a [M]-60 because we fired warning shots over their head, and we also had small arms fire, [M]-16s, [M]-203s. And I think, if I had been in their position, I think I would have backed off like we told them to, and I would have parked the vehicle some place. And if I had had weapons, I think I would have moved up and began to play 'Mister Sniper' with whoever was on there. And that would have been my choice. But, see, they didn't do that, so I don't think they really had any serious infantry training. If they were P.D.F., I think they had pretty shitty infantry training.
SGT BLOUNT: Later on, after we moved back to our positions and everything, we got settled in around the .50-cals., we got them set up, we got the sectors of fire organized and everything, and we were keeping an eye on the obstacle. And it was probably about maybe twenty minutes after we settled down, when we started noticing people coming through, you know, dismounted people coming through the bus. The only way to get around the bus[es] was through the center of them because either side was pretty much blocked off. And they actually came through the center of the buses, and as far as we could tell with our NODs, it looked like they were trying to probe the wire and see exactly was there.
That was the first time we opened up with the .50-cals. There was a big billboard off to the far left of the left bus, and we had our .50 gunner, Dietz, sight in on that, and whenever we gave him the word, he fired about four or six rounds through the sign with the tracers. And once they heard that .50-cal. go off and saw the tracers coming flying towards them, they pretty much 'di di maued' [Vietnamese phrase meaning left] the area.
SPC SHIPP: Big bad wolf.
SGT BLOUNT: Yeah. And we don't know, from the distance we were at, we couldn't tell what kind of uniforms they were wearing, if any. So we weren't sure if they were actual P.D.F., if they were policia, or if they were just civilians out curious about what was going on.
SPC SHIPP: They were Dignity [Battalion members].
SGT BLOUNT: But once they heard that .50-cal., they got out of the area.
MAJ WRIGHT: You were what ... when you went back up to the high ground covering position, you were what, maybe 200 meters from the obstacle?
MULTIPLE VOICES [Primarily SGT BLOUNT]: One hundred and fifty. About 150 from it.
MAJ WRIGHT: And off to the ... the obstacle ... the high ground was to which side of ... ?
SGT BLOUNT: Both sides of the road.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you'd gone ... split up, what, seven and seven?
SGT BLOUNT: Right. We'd gone one section ... the second section was on the right side of the road with a .50-cal., and 1LT Miller was with us over there. And then on the left side of the road was the first section, and SFC Vilorio was over there with them. We had a .50-cal. on either side of the road overlooking the obstacle.
MAJ WRIGHT: Trying to take it under cross fire then, you know, if somebody had really pushed it?
SGT BLOUNT: Right. We'd worked it out so that if ... . Because our strong point, as far as overlooking the obstacle, was the far left, and their strong point was the far right. So we'd already determined if people ... if we were assaulted or an attack was imminent, in that we were going to cross fire to the left and they were going to cross fire to the right, and just take out anyone we could.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you have a range card? Did you make up range cards for the guns? Put out aiming stakes or anything like that?
SSG BROWN: No.
SGT BLOUNT: The only type of aiming stakes we used was the T&E [traversing and elevation] mechanism on the .50-cal.
MAJ WRIGHT: But you did use the T&E mechanisms?
SGT BLOUNT: Right, yes we did.
PFC CULPEPER: And we assigned, as our security positions were out in front, like we put little OPs [outposts] out in front of the .50-cal., we assigned them also.
SGT BLOUNT: Right. They had specific sectors of fire.
SSG BROWN: Plus we had claymores out.
MAJ WRIGHT: How quickly did you get the claymores out? Right away?
SSG BROWN: Yeah. As soon as we had them dig in basic fighting positions and stuff down about twelve inches and stuff. Each guy had approximately five sandbags in his rucksack, he just dug his position and started filling the sandbags, put the sandbags out. Then after that, I had my squad leader, SPC Younger, he went out and he employed [emplaced] the claymore out in the sector where I told him.
SGT BLOUNT: They had one claymore on their side, but to their rear they had the actual hospital was only like, what, 200 meters to your rear.
SSG BROWN: Yes.
SGT BLOUNT: And they had another one of our sections of our unit was in a perimeter around that. But on our side of the road, the right side, we had, behind us there was a lot of low ground and a few houses. And there was a trail, we found out later, that went up and down the mountains behind us that actually bypassed the roadblock. Vehicle traffic couldn't get through it, but dismounted troops could.
MAJ WRIGHT: And you didn't know that until, what, daylight?
SGT BLOUNT: Right, right. And so ...
MAJ WRIGHT: And then the locals told you?
SGT BLOUNT: Right.
PFC CULPEPER: The locals the next day. See, the Dignity Battalion ... they said there was about twenty to forty guys, they were taking that trail from Colon, and they were bypassing us. And the trail wasn't, what, maybe 200 meters from SGT Blount's position, and they were bypassing SGT Blount, and they were going down in the towns and they were stealing and raping the little kids and all that stuff.
MAJ WRIGHT: What? You want to ...
SPC SHIPP: Raping the dogs and killing the cats.
MAJ WRIGHT: Serious on that, did you get real serious confirmation of raping?
PFC CULPEPER: SFC Vilorio was going through a big ... it was really messing his head up because every day, you know, hundreds of people would be coming down there begging us to go past the barricade over into the towns. There was two towns, one on the right side of the road and one on the left, and the Dignity Battalion guys were going into the houses and stuff and raping little kids and stealing whatever they could and shooting people. And "Sergeant V" was getting story after story every day and it was driving him crazy because our higher [headquarters] said we couldn't go down there and help them, you know. We were only 500 meters away to help them and we were told to stay there and guard the obstacle. There was no way we could go down into the town. Plus with the element that we had we were too small.
MAJ WRIGHT: Too small.
SSG BROWN: The only confirmation ... .
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you get that word up the chain real quick?
PFC CULPEPER: Everything we got, we notified up the higher to CPT ... .
MULTIPLE VOICES: Hauser.
SSG BROWN: He's a 7th ID captain. You see, we were actually attached to them. We were under 7th ID's control. But he took care of us, he got everything we needed for us. And all the intel we received from the local populous, we just passed right up the line to him.
MAJ WRIGHT: As spot reports?
SSG BROWN: Right. And he assured us that they'd be passing it to higher, and I have no doubt that he did.
MAJ WRIGHT: And you got pretty good feelings then that the intel was going both ways?
SSG BROWN: Right.
MAJ WRIGHT: You were getting told, what ... they were passing it back down to you?
SSG BROWN: Yes.
SGT BLOUNT: Like I said, the first night we were there, we received intel about two and a half hours after we were there that there was a reinforcement convoy coming down S-3, whatever, the [Boyd]-Roosevelt Highway, of approximately 300 troops, and we got that about two hours after we'd set in. And then about ... we went through preparations, going to the guys. I know SSG Brown and I were going around saying, hey, if it happens, then you got to control your fire, [because] we don't have a lot of rounds. So just take good, well-aimed shots and just keep your head down and keep firing.
And then about 40 minutes or so after that we received, through the net also, we got the [AH-1G] Cobras had been reconning the road and that they saw no more signs of them.
SSG BROWN: And we had primary [AC-130] Spectre that night.
MAJ WRIGHT: You did feel better.
PFC CULPEPER: We felt a lot better that we had the C-130 over the top, primary Spectre fire.
SGT BLOUNT: Yeah, he was flying all night long.
SSG BROWN: AC-130.
PFC CULPEPER: Puff the Magic Dragon.
MAJ WRIGHT: No, Puff was [AC-]47s we had in Vietnam. This is a hell of a lot better than we ever saw.
SSG BROWN: Yeah, that's true.
SGT BLOUNT: Intel was working both ways.
PFC CULPEPER: It made us feel a little bit better.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you see them fire up? Did the Spectres fire up where you could see them?
SGT BLOUNT: Negative. They ... .
MAJ WRIGHT: Because the stories we've been hearing from down on the Pacific side of them, [and then] overflying that area yesterday and looking at what they did. And it was like we removed a city block.
SGT BLOUNT: We knew that the initial battle, I guess the initial battle had started over in Colon, they took down the prison. We were en route to our bridge ... we were just en route when that happened. Like SSG Brown said, when we heard that shit go down, I mean, you knew something was happening. And we later found out that the AC-130 had lit that prison up [it was not actually involved at El Renacer] for a full minute straight. And we could hear it. But like I said, we were down on the road heading towards the bridge, so we weren't even thinking about looking back towards Colon and seeing if we could see any of their tracers.
[End of Side 1]
MAJ WRIGHT: -- from D Company, and we're still at the Madden Dam, still the same individuals, and SPC Shipp wanted to make his comments.
SPC SHIPP: This is Specialist Shipp again. When we were coming from the Dam, the Hospital I mean, excuse me, we didn't really know what the terrain was like when we were moving out, which got real hairy because we were up on the side of the road, and we heard this Spectre in the background. SSG Brown was pointing with an extended LAW. And it got real slow--moving slow. And the buses had already taken off to get up to the dam, I mean the bridge. We were already supposed to be there. And we had to turn back and go straight up the middle of the road with no cover whatsoever. And we had cars coming up. We didn't know who was who. I mean, for all we knew, it could have been P.D.F. in civilian clothes or anything like that. We had cars, we had people coming up the flank roads, buses. We almost shot a retired E-7 [sergeant first class]. You know, you don't know what the hell's going on, and that was the worst part about that whole situation, because we couldn't get through, it got too thick, and we needed to be there a lot quicker, and the buses had already moved out. And we had to get down on the road.
MAJ WRIGHT: Who drove the buses? Do you guys have any idea?
PFC CULPEPER: MPs.
MAJ WRIGHT: MPs?
PFC CULPEPER: Yeah, it was these two MPs.
MAJ WRIGHT: And then they manned the [M]-60, once they dismounted?
SGT BLOUNT: Yes. They had one [M]-60 and they all had small arms. Anyway, they were behind the bus on the right. There was even a female MP down there behind the bus.
MAJ WRIGHT: Really?
SGT BLOUNT: E-5 [sergeant] or E-4 [specialist].
SSG BROWN: E4, was it?
SGT BLOUNT: Yes. Her name was Herrera. She was lying behind one of the rear tires of the bus, just like any other guys.
MAJ WRIGHT: That's your reaction was she ... there wasn't a problem? You know, that's been a big issue.
MULTIPLE VOICES: She wasn't afraid, man. She wasn't.
SGT BLOUNT: As a matter of fact, what really impressed me was that the first night we were there, one of the MP vehicles stayed back. Their squads consist of three personnel. And they moved their vehicle right up underneath the cliff that we had our .50s set up on, with their [M]-60, and they had the gunner and their AG [assistant gunner] was there, and then she was the third person. Well, she came up on the hill with my section and she provided an integrated part of the security of the perimeter for the whole night. And the thing about it was that that first night when we had 100 percent security all night long. So about every hour, I was up, walking the perimeter to make sure the guys weren't asleep. And every time I walked up to her, she was wide awake. And about two hours into it, I went over and was talking to her, and she said, 'I've been seeing a lot of dismounted traffic.' You know, it was about 500 meters down in this low land where the village was at. And she goes, you know, I don't know what to make of it, but just to let you know. So that kind of impressed me because of the fact that I didn't expect a female to be out there staying awake all night long; she had her M-16 ready, locked and loaded; and she really wasn't showing any signs of fear or anything. So ...
MAJ WRIGHT: You'd never worked with those MPs before, but the engineers you knew from back at Bragg, right?
SSG BROWN: We've worked with them engineers back at Bragg, before, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: How long did you stay out at Coco Solo before you recovered?
SSG BROWN: Four days? We were at the bridge for six days. We were at the bridge for six days, and then we moved out and we came straight to the Dam.
MAJ WRIGHT: Did you heli[copter] lift out here or did you come up by ground?
SSG BROWN: No, we came up by deuce and a half and by five ton. And we came straight up the highway, and took over [the] TCP [traffic control point] up here for I believe approximately 24 hours?
SGT BLOUNT: Right, twenty-four hours.
SSG BROWN: And then we have a CP [command post] set up about 350 meters over there on the wood line underneath the shelter by the Dam. And we rested there a little bit and we went back out and pulled another twenty-four hours of duty on the TCP.
MAJ WRIGHT: Was that a regular rotation?
SSG BROWN: It was a rotation through our company, and then we moved out yesterday, I mean the day before, the day before yesterday.
SGT BLOUNT: The day before yesterday we went up to Gamboa for showers. Took showers in Gamboa, we got to visit the PX [post exchange] there and pick us some tobacco, and we came back, we were pretty much down that entire night. We got a full night's sleep. Then yesterday, we went back on the TCP, was there about half a day, went down and hooked up with the LCMs down at Gamboa again, and our whole company (Bravo Company relieved us in place), and our whole company went back to Fort Sherman for, you know, what they call twenty-four hours of down time, R&R [rest and recreation], and then we're back out here again.
MAJ WRIGHT: When you were out at Coco Solo on your position, MREs [Meals, Ready-to-Eat]?
SGT BLOUNT: Everyday.
MULTIPLE VOICES: Everyday.
MAJ WRIGHT: How many times, three meals?
SGT BLOUNT: Three meals a day, ten days straight.
MAJ WRIGHT: And then when you got back to Sherman, did you get Class A rations or T-packs?
SGT BLOUNT: T-packs.
SSG BROWN: We had one hot meal, sir.
SGT BLOUNT: Two. We had dinner last night and breakfast this morning.
SSG BROWN: Well, I was talking about when we were out at Coco Solo at the Sand Flea Hill.
SGT BLOUNT: Oh, that's right.
SSG BROWN: We had one meal. We had one night ...
SSG BROWN: ... our security was up and we didn't know what was going on. It sounded like a lot of troops, light infantry running up and down the road. We opened up on them. First platoon got two, we got one. They were big cows.
PFC CULPEPER: Somehow about ten cows managed to go into the middle of the buses right through the concertina wire, and they came stampeding down, and they knocked over all the oil barrels. They just came running down the middle of the road, and with the street lights, you can't really see down the road, you can see off to the left and right.
SSG BROWN: All you can hear is their hoofs, that sound like boots, like running.
PFC CULPEPER: We heard all that clip-clopping down the road and stuff, and we basically ambushed them at the base of our position.
SGT BLOUNT: Our lieutenant opened up on them ... once ... because he and I took turns running out the security with the NODs on the bridge, and I was up and I was watching the bridge, and I pulled them down. Like Culpeper said, you really couldn't see all that well down the bridge because there were so many street lights past the obstacle that it kind of blanked it out.
MAJ WRIGHT: It blanked it out?
SGT BLOUNT: Right. And I heard something down on the bridge and I put up my NODs, and the next thing I know, this barrel fell over, and then there's a big herd of cows coming at us. And the thing is, I really couldn't tell exactly what it was, just a mass, you know, hauling ass down the road towards us. And I'm like, 'what in the hell.'
PFC CULPEPER: They were white cows and it looked like a big cloud coming at us.
SGT BLOUNT: Whenever the barrel fell over, 1LT Miller woke up and he goes, Blount, 'what's going on?' And I [said], 'I don't know, sir.' And he stood up, and that's when they were right at the bottom of the cliff, and he just opened up: pow, pow, pow. And they went on past us, and went over to AT-1 because they were on the other bridge, and they opened up on them.
SPC SHIPP: They had some damn 'cherries' [soldiers in combat for the first time] over there firing in our direction.
MAJ WRIGHT: Oh, really?
SPC SHIPP: Yes.
SGT BLOUNT: We had tracers whizzing over our heads for a few minutes.
MAJ WRIGHT: Could you take a guess how high over were they, or were they pretty close?
PFC CULPEPER: I had a sign right above me, and they were going right through that. They said they hit the hospital and the sign above me.
SGT BLOUNT: From what I got [the fact] was that they were firing at the cows and the tracers were skipping off the pavement.
MAJ WRIGHT: Skipping off, yeah. Who was that?
MULTIPLE VOICES: That was AT-1. First platoon.
MAJ WRIGHT: First platoon?
SGT BLOUNT: Yes.
MAJ WRIGHT: But did they get any ... ?
SGT BLOUNT: Yes, they killed two ...
MAJ WRIGHT: Were they a cohort platoon?
SGT BLOUNT: No, we don't have any cohorts in the division. But, so once the smoke cleared and everything, we were like, 'what in the world,' you know, and 1LT Miller went over and he got on the radio and he called CPT Hauser and he told him, you know, what happened, to let him know why we were firing shots. And he comes back and he says, 'hey, Blount, I think I killed one of those sons of bitches.' And I'm like, 'no way.' And we walked over and looked down the cliff, and he was sure as shit, he was laying right there in the middle of the road. And that was like at what? 3:00 in the morning, something like that.
And there was this little family, I mean, right next to our position in this house and they were real nice. They gave us water and they'd heat water for coffee, stuff like that, and "Sergeant V" got to know them real good, and they'd give us oranges and stuff like that throughout the days. And they woke up when they heard the firing and they came out. And "Sergeant V" said, hey, if you all want it, take it. They carried it back to their house and they slaughtered it right there.
Well, that night, which was Christmas eve night or Christmas night ...
MULTIPLE VOICES ARGUING
SSG BROWN: It was Christmas Eve.
SGT BLOUNT: ... anyway, they slaughtered it and they cooked up some of the steaks and everything, fried some rice, it was real good. They had us all back there, and we all got a plate of it.
MAJ WRIGHT: So you did have your Christmas eve dinner?
SGT BLOUNT: Right. It was interesting. The food was good, too. We were real pleased.
SSG BROWN: A guy in our platoon, after the shooting, he says, what the hell was that, what the hell was that, and a guy in our platoon named Gilkerson says, I think it was a lamb.
SGT BLOUNT: And we're like, yeah, right.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything else you guys can think of of particular significance? Did anybody get mail out to you?
SGT BLOUNT: We didn't start getting mail until we got here. Which was after, we were out there for six days, seven days, and we came here and that first day here they finally started passing out mail once we got here.
MAJ WRIGHT: Is that a function of just getting back linked with battalion?
SGT BLOUNT: Well, yeah. What it was our battalion set up its CP in Gamboa, so when we started rotating our platoons down there for showers, they started picking up mail then.
The only thing I have left to say is, when we got back here from Gamboa that night, we were twenty-four hours down, and I guess they had gotten a couple of intel reports from people up on the TCP or from civilians up there, that they'd seen troops crossing the road about a click [kilometer] away from here, with weapons. And so they didn't put us on alert or anything, but they just said, hey, look, you know, sleep with your boots on and keep your rifles close by. And in the middle of night ... . We had our battalion mortars (81mm) were set up over there by the CP, and in the middle of the night, one of them went off. And we were like, everybody was, 'whoa, what happened?' And there was a flare.
We have a roadblock set up on the far side of the Dam and one of our platoons was down there. And what happened was a vehicle had come up, and they couldn't identify it or identify the people in it, or anything like that, so they sent up two flares. And then the next thing you know, the Spectre's up there flying around again. And it came over, and this is, I mean, I was amazed because I heard they had spotlights on the Spectres but that Spectre, I swear, he was too grand in the sky. He turned on that spotlight and lit up that entire compound over there. And so after that, it pretty much impressed my mind that I was glad as hell they were up there.
MAJ WRIGHT: SPC Shipp?
SPC SHIPP: I have one thing to say about our mission. Our mission, itself, initially was okay, you know, for security for the engineers while they set up the roadblock. But I think they misused us like they always do, and they kept us there doing pretty much an MP's job, which I got really sick of it. That's what the MPs trained for. We didn't really have, that was the first time we ever did anything like that, and I think, and the MPs were just coming and going while we were sitting there doing their job for them. I think that was pretty messed up. I'm [Military Occupational Specialty] 11H; I never wanted to be 11H; I hate the mission. [But] we never even get the mission that I hate.
PFC CULPEPER: No shit. I'd like to say something, also. We're the Delta companies in division, and we're kind of the black sheep all over division, because we're not 11B, so we don't ... . We have vehicles back at Bragg, but down here we don't have vehicles. We have ourselves and we don't have any [M]-60s; we have our 50s. But we didn't get any missions. I understand our mission was important, but I wish we'd had a better mission or something where I could have done a little more, because I don't really feel that I did enough. But the thing that disturbs me the most is, like Shipp said, that Delta companies in the division right now are misused. Here, our use I can understand because we're not as strong as a line platoon. We don't have as many people but we're still infantry, we can still do the job. And I think [that] higher [headquarters] a lot of times believe that because were 11Hs, we don't know what the hell we're doing when it comes to this.
[WIND SOUNDS BLOTTING OUT CONVERSATION]
PFC CULPEPER: That's right. We had no problems with land nav[igation] the first part when we came to JOTC. The Bravos were blowing back out and were retraining their land nav, while I believe only one section, which is only six people out of our whole company, had to go retrain. The rest of us, we had no problem with it at all. One time out on the range in JOTC, we had a quick fire range. They were attached ... two platoons were attached to a different line company. We were attached to Bravo Company, 2nd platoon and 3rd platoon of our company was attached to what is it Charlie, Bravo Company of our battalion? And we got out to a quick fire range and the school was not even, was not supplemented [with] enough rounds for us to go through it, so we just came back to the rear. We didn't get training there because we were considered part of ... we were just considered excess baggage, and that kind of irritates us when we get that.
SGT BLOUNT: Every chance we get, we like to learn too, you know. They just kept saying, sorry, we can't accommodate you.
PFC CULPEPER: And we heard, also, which I feel bad about, which really angers me, is that our Delta companies in our brigade [1st Brigade, 82d Airborne Division] ... a lot of our guys were left back there from Delta companies, because of the reason that I believe, that the division and battalion commanders and brigade commanders feel that Delta company soldiers aren't qualified as 11B, so they can't come down to something like this. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This impression was not accurate.]
And we've heard rumors of terminations, and I don't blame them one bit, because we trained just as hard as they do. We're out in the woods every time they go out in the woods. We're in the field. I mean, we don't sit around. We don't have coke machines in our vehicles and we don't sit out there and have a campfire or anything like that. We're out there, jack, and we move. We do our training and we do it damn good. And to get left out of a mission like this after you train and you train and you train, and that's your whole purpose is for something like this, and to be told, well, you're not needed now, it makes you feel useless because you're 11H. We're still 11-series and I think higher needs to reevaluate 11H's mission and division.
Here in the jungle, we should be 11B. In the Sinai, our mission would be to kill tanks because that's the perfect place for it. But here, we can't kill any tanks in the jungle with a TOW. We realize that. AT-4s and LAWs will take out bunkers and buildings just as fine as a TOW in the jungle. Well, not just as fine as a TOW, a TOW will do a massive amount of damage to a building. But we can't hump that TOW through the woods very far. It just perturbs me, and that's the thing I'll remember most about this, is ... .
SSG BROWN: The Delta companies from 1st and 2nd battalion stayed back. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This belief was not correct.]
PFC CULPEPER: They stayed back. And once again, we were made to feel that we were inadequate as soldiers. We wouldn't stop a mission, because of all the ... we were made to feel inadequate as soldiers because [multiple voices agreeing]. We don't feel inadequate, let me rephrase that, we don't feel inadequate. We are made to feel that higher believes that we are inadequate, and we know damn well we're not. And this proves to me that I don't really have a whole lot of faith in my highers sometimes because they feel that way about me.
SPC SHIPP: I have zero.
MAJ WRIGHT: Anything else, guys?
PFC CULPEPER: That's pretty much it.
MAJ WRIGHT: I really appreciate it, and we'll get a copy of this interview transcribed. And when I do, months down the road, I'll give the company commander a call back at Bragg, and drop a copy over onto your files so that you can get going. And I'll leave you guys, and i'll leave the LT, a copy of my card for back there at Bragg. And I'd be more than happy, once I start getting the big picture on what went down and everything, to swing back by, back brief you guys. And I'll police up ... in fact, what you guys may want to do is give it a couple of months ... well, God knows when we're all going home ... but give it a little time after we get back. And then I'm over in Old Division Area in the DPT [Directorate of Plans and Training], sitting in a less than luxury building. But I'll let you guys take a look at the photos and what-not, and you swing by and tell me what you want, and I'll get them over to TSC [Training Support Center] and get some copies made up.
MULTIPLE VOICES: All right. Thank you, sir.
MAJ WRIGHT: Appreciate it.
VOICE: Thanks a lot.
[END OF INTERVIEW]